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/// BEAUMONT'S JOURNAL
 
AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2002 » BACK TO BEAUMONT'S JOURNAL INDEX
 
Beaumont's Journal
Back to the Mondial
I have written previously about Montréal's summer beer fest, the Mondial de la Bière, and not always in an entirely positive way. Formerly located on the manmade islands that jut out from the city's Old Port district, the Mondial has seen its share of problems in the past, not the least of which was the inevitable wind that would kick up sand and debris, occasionally adding unexpected texture to beer samples. Compared to the city-centre Mondial, the suburban Festibière de Chambly was an idyllic walk in the park.

But a couple of years ago, a change in provincial government policy brought about the demise of the Festibière, as the festival's tax debt was called in all at once, and the Mondial was left without a competitor. To its organizers' great credit, rather than relaxing in their new monopolistic position, they elected to make changes in order to improve their event. To my observation, many of these changes reflected the strengths of the old Festibière.

The most important move was the shift from the Old Port to the newly renovated Windsor Station, adjacent to the Molson Centre, home of the Montréal Canadiens. Seldom are beer events held in halls of such grandeur. Split between the interior atrium and outdoor courtyard, the grounds of the fest were spacious, attractive and immaculate. Even the toilet facilities were impressive, certainly classier by far than those I have encountered at any other beer event.

This was the kind of beer I love, one that provokes the imagination while satisfying the taste buds.

Another change from my last Mondial visit was the presentation of “event only” beers not normally available in Québec, a move that definitely reflected one of the great strengths of the Festibière. The “Petit Pub du Mondial de la Bière” offered a wide selection of Canadian, American, French and English ales and lagers, some familiar and others not, including such choice pours as Dogfish Head's Raison d'Etre from Delaware, Fuller's London Porter from England and the terrifically hoppy yet still balanced Hop Infusion Ale from Pennsylvania's Weyerbacher Brewing Company.

Also new for this year was a policy of free admission, which allowed beer tasters to come and go as they liked throughout the course of the festival. Admittedly, this may have been forced upon the organizers, since the Windsor Station is a public facility, but forced or not, it certainly beats the “I've paid my admission, so I'd better drink as much as possible before I leave” mind set fostered by the majority of beer fests.

Particularly welcomed by many of the brewery owners I spoke with was another change for 2002: the shortening of the Mondial to five days from the previous 10. In the past, brewpub and craft-brewery owners had complained about the manpower it would take to staff a booth for the full Mondial. With only half that time to cover this year, that burden was eased considerably.

As with any beer fest, there were numerous highs and lows to be found among the brews available for sampling. National brewer Molson unveiled its new Molson Smooth Dry, a lager that I found had so little real flavour I was unable to form a serious opinion on it one way or the other. On the opposite side of the intensity spectrum was the new Terrible from Unibroue, an outstanding black ale with notes of black licorice, Asian spice, molasses and alcohol in the aroma and a wonderfully complex, almost chewy body offering flavours of clove, very dark chocolate, espresso bean and blackstrap molasses. (At present, Terrible is available only in Québec, and the brewery says it has no plans to market it elsewhere.)

Other local brews I sampled included two others from Unibroue: the Granny Smith apple-ish Éphémère aux Pommes (roughly, “The Ephemeral Taste of Apples”), which was already proving to be a big crowd favourite two days into the fest, and the spicy, strong blonde ale Fringante (the name doesn't really translate, but the closest, I'm told, is “Frisky”). From north of Montréal, Les Brasseurs du Nord countered with a wonderfully chocolaty Boréale Noire, which struck me as significantly improved from the last time I tasted it, and the city-centre Les Brasseurs RJ showcased its under-license Blonde d'Achouffe, a beer related to, but not the same as, the southern Belgian La Chouffe.

Ferme Brasserie Schoune, a Québec brewery that boasts a rather checkered history of opening and closing, brought 11 beers to the Mondial, although many of them were mysteriously absent every time I attempted to buy a sample. I was successful in trying three: a rather anemic Blonde au Miel (“Honey Blond”), a more convincing, allspice-ish Ambrée (“Amber”) and a Gueuze that offered plenty of barnyard in the aroma but had little structure or lambic character in the taste.

Other than the Terrible, the most impressive beer I encountered at the festival was provided by the innovative Montréal brewpub, Dieu du Ciel. Among the eight or nine beers they brought to the Mondial was the masterfully improvisational La Route des Épices (“The Spice Route”), a brown ale flavoured with black peppercorns. There was no ignoring the pure black peppercorn aroma of this beer, while the body provided a delicious mix of black pepper spice, soft plum fruitiness and notes of chocolate and caramel. On the finish, the black pepper returned big time and left a soft burn on the back of the palate.

This was the kind of beer I love, one that provokes the imagination while satisfying the taste buds. My 4-oz. taster prompted me to wonder how La Route des Épices would behave over the course of a larger serving, whether the pepper would prove too strong or the complexity would deepen and develop further. Seeking answers, I paid a visit to Dieu du Ciel's Laurier Street location the next evening and am pleased to report that the latter was most certainly the case.
As usual, my visit to Montréal was too short. I left with many meals uneaten, many beers unsampled and many streets unstrolled. But given how improved the Mondial was this year, I have a very strong feeling I'll be back.

For information about the Mondial de la Bière 2003, visit the festival's bilingual Website at festivalmondialbiere.qc.ca.

For Montréal tourism information in English, go to Tourisme Montréal's Website at tourism-montreal.org.

 

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